When I first arrived in Pamplona, to spend no more than one night, I had no idea whatsoever that just two years later I would be living here. But that's the effect that Pamplona had on me. I instantly fell in love with the place. Whether it was down to its narrow and often colourful streets, its gothic churches and cathedrals, its green spaces and parks that feel like gardens belonging to royalty, its views of surrounding mountains or its culture which combines Basque tradition with Spanish fervour, perhaps I'll never know. But one thing I can be sure of is that my day in Pamplona was a day well spent; a pit-stop on the Camino de Santiago that would end up leaving such a mark on me that it would change my life. Here is what I did.
After having checked in at the Albergue Jesús y Maria, I left my belongings inside and stepped out into the narrow street for a walk. At that moment, I realised how nice and light it all of a sudden felt to be walking without a heavy backpack on my back with all its weight on my shoulders. I took a right and walked straight to the nearby Plaza de la Compañía and then to the similar Plaza San Francisco where I got my first feel for local life in Pamplona, seeing local residents hang out in the square, some at the nearby cafes and terraces and others simply on benches as their children played in the small playground. I could see a real sense of community in these residential squares only they were right in the heart of the historical centre, amid the narrow cobbled streets and centuries-old houses painted in different colours, each with their own balconies overlooking their patches of the neighbourhood.
The Plaza del Castillo was only a stones-throw away and is a must for anyone dropping by Pamplona for the day. As the city's main and largest square, it is full of bars, restaurants, cafes and a lively atmosphere. The place I gravitated towards was the square's largest and I would say most beautiful restaurant/café known as Café Iruña. Its luxurious interior seems as if it has barely changed since it was designed in 1888. After ordering a cold beer, I sat in the terrace outside and realised that I was in a place labelled Hemingway's corner, where the writer himself used to drink during the running of the bulls festivals. There is a small enclosure there with its own little bar where a statue of the legendary American writer stands as he used to.
The natural thing people seem to do is visit Pamplona's main cathedral but I would say that some of the smaller churches nearby have an arguably even more beautiful interior, such as the Iglesia de San Saturnino. But as I left the Plaza del Castillo and wandered past the stunning town hall building and then down the Calle Mayor, I ended up at the Taconera, Pamplona's oldest and most charming park. From here I would walk along the old city walls, only to stop and look on in awe as the sun began to set behind the distant mountains.
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